Cindy at Ordo Amoris is hosting a book club for Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen, Ph.D. The following contains some of my thoughts on chapter two.
I know that defining terms is so important it’s become a cliche that bugs even me, but when I tried to explain the premise of this book to a friend, I found myself getting tripped up over the meaning of “imagination” and how that relates to methods of education and child-rearing. It does not seem as though Dr. Esolen is referring to an ability to play at knights and dragons or to dream up some creative painting or poetry, though perhaps that would be included, but he means the ability to reason and wonder and figure out and to do all of that independent of an outside entity dictating the “right” thoughts to the child.
The first method Esolen discusses of destroying a child’s imagination is to keep him indoors all the time. I wonder if he is a reader of Charlotte Mason. In his belief that, whether in country or city, children need to spend a great deal of time playing out of doors for their imaginations to flourish, Dr. Esolen is in agreement with Miss Mason. I don’t fault him at all for this idea not being a new one to me, but I do wonder if I’ll tire of nodding my head in agreement since, if the table of contents is an accurate representation of what is to come, Miss Mason has already convinced me. I am, however, enjoying Esolen’s style and it is good to shore up my convictions now and then.
The first reason outdoor play is beneficial is because of the sky. The sky is full of interesting things which may cause children to think. The vastness of the sky also inspires the contemplation of infinities; it causes children to see and care about something beyond manmade constructs. It might make them feel something which used to inspire poets.
I laughed out loud when I read Esolen’s thoughts about the sky. I’ve always been amazed by the shafts of light that pierce through holes in clouds. Apart from my usual sky-gazing, I often wonder, “What would it look like if Jesus came now and split the sky?” It seems these past few years I can’t pull my eyes back down for very long. I find it distracting. It must be genetic I think. As the women in my family age, their ability to drive worsens because they are busy looking at pretty and interesting things along the way – most notably, the sky. I don’t know why this wonder and delight to come to us even more as we age, but I’m glad it does; I’m glad it just keeps getting more interesting.
The second way being outdoors encourages imagination is that it brings children in contact with uncontrolled entities, parts of the universe that are still wild – birds, weather, the homeless for examples. There is an order to these things, but it is not an order which has been imposed upon them; they do not help the machine run. Out of doors, children might notice for themselves what things really are like. They might notice their surroundings.
Thirdly, being outside, children might come to know themselves rather than believing what they are told about themselves. Separated from the power of marketers and institutions, they may come to know who they are, what they can do, what they really need. They may come to know that they are human.